Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Sophie of Hanover, Princess of all the things

Well, it was a hard hill for Tissot’s Princesse de Broglie to climb, pitting her against Ingres’ Princesse de Broglie in last weeks  Princess-Off.   Ingres’ painting is so well know, and so beloved, that any frock would have to struggle against it.  Still, it was an interesting battle, and I think Ingres’s princess did more poorly than she might have on her own, as Tissot’s avant-garde princess highlighted how safe and cliche her earlier counterpart’s frock was.  Still, Ingres’s 1850s Josephine was the clear winner, with 7.6 points out of 10, while Tissot’s 1890s Pauline could only manage 6.6 out of 10.

I’ve been wanting to showcase this painting as a ‘Rate the Dress’ for ages.  ‘Pretty, Pretty, Princess’ fortnight seemed the perfect opportunity, and then, with uncanny timing, Willow on facebook asked if the Electress Sophia of Hanover counts as a princess.

Does she ever!  Sophia was the daughter of the Winter King & Queen of Bohemia (and he was also the Elector Palatine), the granddaughter of the King of England, the wife of the Prince-Elect of Hanover, and finally, the heir to the throne of England.  She was first  Sophie, Princess Palatine of the Rhine and then Duchess Sophia of Brunswick-Lüneburg, before becoming  Sophia of the Palatinate, Electress of Hanover.  She missed out on being Queen Sophia I of England by less than two months.  So princess in every possible way!

She was also awesome.  She was learned, witty, openminded, interested in the whole world, a loving wife, a good mother (mostly).  As a young woman she showed unexpected spirit and a remarkable amount of wisdom when she told her first cousin Charles II of England to stuff off, because he was courting her for her money and to strengthen his position as heir to the English throne (should it be restored), not because they would suit (probably not in those words, but that’s how I like to imagine it).  As an old woman, she was still so handsome and lively that I suspect the ill middle-aged Queen Anne of England stubbornly hung on to life to make sure she outlived Sophia, and didn’t have the final ignomy of out-done by her octogenarian successor.  Sophia finally died at 83 after collapsing after a run (no, I’m not making that up), Anne heard of her death and passed away, age 49, within a fortnight.

Anyway, that’s all beside the point, because today we’re looking at Sophia for her style:

Sophie of the Palatinate, electress of Hanover, ca. 1645, by an unknown artist

Sophie of the Palatinate, later Electress of Hanover, ca. 1645, by an unknown artist (possibly her sister Louise)

Sophia, aged between 10 and 20, is probably wearing allegorical or fancy dress in this portrait.  Fancy dress or not, the garment shows the mark of its time, in the transition between the higher-waisted 1630s styles, and the longer torso of the 1660s, and the full, dropped sleeves.  Sophia’s status (or claim to it, as this portrait was probably done between the death of her father and her brother’s restoration as the Elector of the Palatinate) and wealth is obvious in the pearl trim edging her sleeves and waist, the pearls twined through her headdress, the massive pearl and ruby drops at forehead, breast and waist, the further pearls round her neck and jewels round her bodice, and the fineness of her shift.

What do you think?  Is it wacky or fabulous?  Too much for a young girl, or is that just the right time to be playing dress-ups?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I really like this dress. I do wish she had a more grown up hair do. That and the fact that the hat looks like it’s about to fall of the back of her head makes it look like she’s playing dress up. I’m dying to know what the bottom of the dress looks like.

    Overall, 8/10

  2. I think it is all a bit much. That was probably the point, but the pearls, and the jewels, and the feathers, and the sleeves, etc, etc. are too much all together. I do like her hair though. 3/10

  3. Perhaps it’s just the way the artist handled the perspective, but I think it’s ugly. The pearl-and-ruby trim looks clunky and medieval, and the red accents on the sleeves look too large and garish. A 5 at best.

  4. Love every little bit! The chunky pearls, though I love them, are a bit too big in this case, but I do love the echo of the previous century in the trim style. Jeweling a neckline like that was a style from before young Sophia’s time. It’s really fun to see that our ancestors enjoyed dress up as much as we do, though on a much grander/expensive scale (The fine materials of this dress would be far out of my own budget today!).

    Overall, I give it a hearty 9.5!

  5. Rebecca says

    I don’t like the trim very much–the jewels look like the plastic kind that come in packages at craft stores–but the effect is great. I even like the hair and the feathery hat. 9.5/10

  6. Daniel says

    I think it’s charming. A nice balance between simplicity and decoration. Not really my thing, but I think it’s nice. 6.5/10, because while I like it, it’s not wowing me at all.

  7. Sue H says

    A jewel of her family showing off the jewels of the family, what’s not to love. 10/10

  8. Wow, she is really beautiful. Love it, a few small details I would do without but overall 8/10

  9. Gauss says

    I love it, and what a great story! I think the outfit looks beautiful, it’s a 9 out of 10 for me.

  10. I can’t say I like the sleeves, but I do like the hat. The bodice is nice, but isn’t stunning. 8/10 from me with extra points awarded for the headgear.

  11. Belinda says

    Oh goodness I love this. Elegant, quirky, gorgeous. My favourite bits are the hat and the sleeves… and of course her! 10/10. I’d give it 11 if I could!

  12. That is a fun dress. I think I would steal portions of this dress for a Victorian one. And being a magpie personality (look at all that shineys) I like the bling. 8/10. Looses points for not being in my favorite era.

  13. fidelio says

    Let me just add that Sophia’s older brother was the force of nature known as Rupert of the Rhine, her older sister Elisabeth was Descartes’ favorite pen pal, and her sister Louise also painted this portrait of Sophia. Sophia was a cat-lover, too.

    All that said (they’re an interesting group of people, the Queen of Bohemia’s children, and I feel for their tutors and governesses, as they must have been a lot of work to keep up with), I have pretty mixed feelings about young Sophia’s outfit.

    First of all, I wonder if it even existed–the family was living in The Hague on whatever money happened to come their way, whether from Uncle Charles, the States-General of the Netherlands, or friends like the Earl of Craven. So not the poshest of royals by a long shot. It’s possible that a lot of what we see here was added by the painter’s imagination–especially the gems!

    That said, the balance of colors is nice, and works especially well for a brunette. It’s very much of its period, even in the fancy dress details that are not typical of normal fashion for the time. It’s a little overwhelming, though–she looks about twelve here, and I think part of that is the effect of the dress and head-dress. So I’d give this a 7–partly because it’s a little too much for the wearer, and partly because I’m not sure it was ever a real dress.

  14. Zach says

    I think it’s almost perfect! I love pretty much everything about it–in fact the only thing I don’t care for is the shift, but it’s practically the same color as her skin and isn’t that noticeable. I LOVE the red, white and black combination, and there’s just the right amount of each color for my tastes. I think the sleeves are my favorite part of the entire ensemble, though the jewels run a close second (you know how I am about jewelry). In fact, I love this dress so much that I’m going to forget deducting the half point I was going to take off for the shift and give it a full…

    Ten out of ten! I really, really, really, really want to make this one day.

  15. Natalie says

    I think it is lovely and so much fun! 9/10

  16. 7/10. Very nice, especially the sleeves, but how on earth are they staying up on her non-existent shoulders. One move and they’d slip off.

  17. I like it.
    Her headdress is fantastic, and her curls are perfect. The bodice proportions are weird, but the trim is lovely.
    I’m not so sure about the drawstring thing, is it her shift? It’s sticking up quite high.


    She does sound awesome, it’s amazing that she went running at age 83. I’m having difficulty imagining what kind of clothing a 17th century princess would wear to go jogging in.

    • fidelio says

      As I understand it, she was walking in her garden when it started to rain, and ran to get inside, or at least under cover. So not really working on her marathon prep!

      Her mother was big on hunting on horseback, and refused to ride sidesaddle. I’m not sure how old she was when she gave up riding.

      • That’s a bit disappointing, but it’s still a very impressive age for someone of that century. Did these ladies do anything else besides horseback riding to get exercise?

        • Well, she was walking in the garden, far enough away to need to run during a rainstorm, and was fit enough to run when needed. She also danced (dancing is excellent exercise, which many women of most historical eras engaged in far more than most modern women).

  18. I love the overall effect, if not the dress! The headdress is marvelous, if not over-the-top. I also wonder if the dress, or at least elements of it were not invented by the artist! Nonetheless, I love it and want to wear it. The colors do complement her. 9/10.

  19. If one is going to play dress-up princess, she certainly has the perfect dress for the role. It’s a bit over the top, but the overall effect is good. 8/10.

  20. I’m enraptured by the dress as a whole, except for one detail – the measly dark string tying the neckline (is that part of the dress or an undergarment?) Sumptuous black velvet ribbon would be so much more in keeping.

    Given her position, the pearls and jewels seem utterly in keeping. I enjoyed reading about her. Another heroine to share with my young daughters – thank you!


  21. I love individual parts of this dress very much – like the tiny gold embroidery at the white parts, and the sharpness of the black against the white, and the pearls, and the chemise. But I don’t quite like them together…
    7/10, because it’s still a striking and pretty dress. And I love that she’s wearing a fairly simple hairstyle with the fancy dress.

  22. Lisa says

    First up, the headdress: wonderful frou-frou feathers with restrained pearl-seeded black velvet. Yes, that’s a plus for me!

    Shift: Hmm, not so keen. I’d like to see it sitting lower although this might not be altogether appropriate for her youth…

    Bodice/sleeves: despite the ginormous rubies ( I do hope they’d be real!), rather elegant in all. Love the delicate fleur-de-lis goldwork against the white and the embellished black velvet edging. Not overly keen on the large scalloped edges hanging over the sleeves but do like the sleeves – just a simple pattern of stitched pearls please!

    Overall, a firm 8.5/10 from me. She is just so gorgeous, hope she did get to swan about in robes like this!

  23. I really, really love this, though I can’t even say exactly why. She looks a little bit like a kid playing dress-up, but she also looks completely comfortable in her clothes, which is not always the case! The dress has a nice balance of colours and I love the band of black around the neckline. I like her natural, slightly untidy curls also.

    I honestly can’t find anything I dislike about this one, so 10 out of 10 from me!

  24. Cassidie says

    I totally give this a 10/10. I love to dress up now that I’m a grown up. If I could afford it I would dress extravagantly as well it, but helps that she held a high enough status to wear such clothes. Rock on princess!

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